An Exercise of Will: What Would you do With Your Freedom if it Weren't a Given?

Aksamit, Nichole. "An Exercise of Will: What Would you do With Your Freedom if it Weren't a Given?" Forum, 14 November 1999, sec. E1.

The modest women of Spring Prairie Colony share a quiet moment in the early morning sun on a trailer behind a tractor headed for a cucumber field northwest of Hawley, Minnesota.

Spring Prairie Colony, Minn.

It's a beautiful August morning, and we are sitting on a trailer being pulled behind a tractor headed for a field of cucumbers.

The air is cool but the sun is warm and the women are cheerful - kerchiefed heads bowed, buckets in hand, legs swinging out to brush the tall grass.

It is one of those rare moments when everything seems perfect, and I raise my camera in an attempt to preserve it.

The moment evaporates as the young Hutterite woman next to me speaks.

"If I had my free will," she confides, with a nod toward my camera, "I'd take pictures of nature all day long."

If I had my free will.

Her words ricochet in my head.

For months, I have been reading about how Hutterites request baptism as adults and surrender free will to serve God and the community of believers.

For the last 48 hours, I've presumed to know what it's like to be in Hutterite shoes just because I borrowed a pair of rubber boots and did a little garden work.

And only now, on a trailer headed for a cucumber field northwest of Hawley, do I begin to understand the sacrifice Hutterites make.

Here, there is no free will. Here, faith goes far beyond lipservice.

At night in the solitude of my stark Hutterite room, the phrase haunts me.

If I had my free will.

I think about the opposite. If I didn't have my free will, how would I finish that sentence?

Would I crave the freedom to cut my hair short, open a bank account, wear pants? Would I want to earn my driver's license, listen to the radio, splurge at Dayton's now and again?

To those of us who take such freedoms for granted, a life without them is hard to fathom. But for the Hutterites, who use free will only in surrender, personal liberties must seem like so much butter and jam without the bread. For them, free will can never measure up to God's will.

I drift to sleep thinking about how my life is the sum total of a million small decisions, while the Hutterite life is the result of a single binding choice few people outside the colonies dare to consider.

With one decision, Hutterites have a ready response to all the big questions: Who am I, what's my purpose, how should I live? The answer is simply, "Who, what and as god wills."

Had I, like my Hutterite friend, decided to leave all other decision to God, I doubt I would deem anything more important.

The next afternoon, the sun warms our aching backs as we bend over rows of strawberry plants, pulling weeds.

For a moment, I stand and stretch and watch the young women around me. They chat happily about an upcoming wedding, pluck the weeds from the vines and shoo the little boys who are supposed to be helping.

I wipe my brow and look up at the fields, the clouds, the bright blue sky beyond the chokecherry trees.

It is another perfect moment, and I am glad to be part of it. I do not reach for my camera.

Whatever led me - God's will or my own - I feel lucky to have wound up here.

(Aksamit spent five days among the Hutterites at Spring Prairie Colony near Hawley, Minn., in August.)

Reprinted with permission of The Forum

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